This past month I’ve been driving a route that I’ve driven often since I first got my driver’s license – many moons ago…
And I’ve found my mind returning over and over to the stories from my past that all occur within a little over 2 miles of roadway out of the 28 total miles.
All while my eyes, today, observe and deliver to my mind to things to contemplate.
Things that change but really, rather stay the same.
From West to East:
As one travels eastward, and enters the 2+ mile stretch – they will find themselves on an apparent flat stretch of 2 lane black ribbon pavement. The young and adventurous or those who believe ‘all is flat and you can see forever’ will take the risk to pass when the yellow highway markings say, “um…not safe yet’.
This is thanks to the illusion of a ‘flat run’ that hides small undulations within the land – where oncoming cars hide and ‘pop’ out just about the time one is racing to pass the slow line of campers, tractor trailers or many are easing around the combine/tractor driving on the shoulder, but not fully out of the travel lane.
While I’m not a geologist, I do believe these undulations are there from the long ago scraping, heaving and deposits left by retreating glaciers.
Within a 10 minute drive, all around where I live, I can gaze upon rolling earth, and rock outcroppings, where little in way of forage grows for ranging livestock, and yet, some of the most beautiful and hardy prairie plants take root and survive in the elements that swing wildly between wintry blustering winds that drive the ‘wind chill’ factor down to well below zero and hotter than hell, dehydrating, furnace blasts that sap and test the spirit of humans, flora and fauna alike, these hardy flowering plants survive among the sharp, unforgiving edges and rubble, once made smooth through pressure and the elements, but now worn into small chips & flakes that nip, or slice, at anything that dares to push too hard or move too fast through their territory.
The plants that survive in these locations often play close to the ground. short stalks, and quick turn around from stem/leaf growth to blossom and going to seed is why they survive here.
They propagate fast and pass on their heritage to the coming years landscape without having to survive dying of thirst or high winds.
Often they hide or sport spines, stickers or burrs – they, too, must protect themselves.
Sometimes they are so tender, so prone to injury or damage by the careless foot, that one wonders how they even dare to survive in this landscape without some further measure of defense?
Because they Insist
And I’m reminded of a line from Benjamin Capp’s, A Woman of the People:
The False Straightaway
That long seemingly flat stretch is also where I long ago observed a classmate attempt to pass a string of cars at high speed, swerve back in when oncoming traffic surprised him, and watched as he careened out of control and the car rolled umpteen times into the vast flat pasture to the south.
How he and his passenger survived that, and walked away from it, I shall never know, but they did.
He’s been gone from this plane for awhile now. Gone well before the time he could fully share his love of hot cars AND his tale of caution when his children became old enough to drive.
Not because he was brash, or reckless or any of the thousand and one things one thinks of, but merely because his heart decided to stop, earlier than expected or given statistics, while he worked in the yard of his own home.
Next comes the curve….
With the ranch that lays along side of it. The place where a house, barn & indoor arena stands.
I went to work with Dad there sometimes. He did the plumbing there. And the repairs. And the remodels.
That is the same curve where another friend managed to ‘miss it’ and rolled his car deep into the pasture one night, though I didn’t observe it. He, too, walked away, though his car wasn’t as lucky. It got towed home and rebuilt from the frame up.
I know, because I helped here and there, as I was allowed to/smart enough to do what was needed. And I remember the first night it was put back together enough, with working lights and doors, and how the three of us piled into it and drove for the pure pleasure of it. Me and the two friends who had classic cars and who both wrecked along those two miles….
That night, they listened to me sing the old cowboy ballads, because there was no radio back in it yet, and well…it was a moonlit night and the prairie at night time makes me want to burst into song.
The engine rumbled along, playing the drums and the bass.
Ahh…what a car that was….
And what friends they were….
Next comes the long, long hill – with a passing lane…
The hill that defies all logic for many bigger vehicles. It starts it’s incline overall, in the curve – hard to get one’s speed up for taking that hill at a good clip, and the big boys move over to the right, to let the impatient zippy cars and pickups move on around them.
At the crest, when the line of clustered traffic is long, there comes the time where someone has to brake, someone has to speed up and everyone has to get merged back down to one lane, and they’d best get ‘er done fast, or else be ready to take the ditch, because, well, another one of those little undulations lies just beyond where you thought the crest actually was.
That’s the hill where time, rain, wind, sound – – well, in short, the Universe itself, came to a stand still, one night, long ago, when I was driving through what felt like a typhoon, hurricane and waterfall, on my way to work.
My small car was in second gear and straining to keep from dying, as it pushed through the wall of wind and water. And then it all just stopped.
The sheets of water, the shrieking & roar of the wind – all stopped.
The car surged forward and I’m lucky I didn’t redline the tach and blow the engine, given my amazement and slower than I should have realization, I needed to shift up to 3rd, then quickly to 4th.
For that moment in time, it felt as if me and my car were the only things moving. Moving through space and time while they stood absolutely still – unchanging, never changing…..
And then, before me, stretched the grey, misty wall – and I dove into the waterfall of chaos once more –
Downshifted. Downshifted again.
Settled in for another few miles of pedal to the medal, in 2nd gear, and going maybe 35 mph.
That was the night of the June 6, 1990.
A date known to local history as the Limon tornado.
I gave birth to my firstborn son the next day.
Had I realized what I was actually driving THROUGH at the time, I most likely would have given birth right there on the highway.
Ignorance is bliss, sometimes.
Since those long ago times…
There have been many other accidents – in that area where a State Trooper made one last stop for the night to let a traveler know their tail light was out – and got shot for his temerity at stopping them to let them know, “Hey! Hard to see you – check your fuse or lights….”
I worked with one of his son’s for awhile.
There have been many other close calls, horrific carnage and miraculous saves – so many I’m sure I don’t even know about.
You wouldn’t know it….
Just speeding through those two miles to get from here to there –
Sure, there is a house here, the remains of a homestead there – but overall, what most people see, if they even look, is prairie stretching out on all sides of them – soapweeds, grazing cattle maybe a horse or alpaca or two.
Today the cattle were grazing pretty far from each other – it’s been a very hot, dry summer thus far, though perhaps, our traditional August monsoon (as much of a monsoon as we actually get, here) is finally showing up.
The horses grazing in the pasture when I headed out this morning, are instead, standing head to tail, patiently swishing the flies off each other with their tails when I make my way back home, mid-day. It’s hot now and they stoically stand, heads down and swish the pests from each other’s eyes & face.
It pays to have a buddy standing next to ya, out here.
But, for the most part, the hurry, scurry of summer traffic seems to have returned to it’s pre-COVID standard, albeit, there are times the flow seems a little more harried, a little more edgy, a little more impatient, a little more aggressive on some fronts.
Since this state highway is also an artery for a main trucking route, there are more trucks out and about than tourists, it seems, as they work to move supplies from one place to another.
The wheat has been harvested. It’s reported to me that the bushel per acre for many of my neighbors was as good as last year. They don’t know why or how, with the dry late winter/early & late , and the dog days of summer showing up fast & early, but are thankful.
The dryland corn is putting on tassles, though it’s not as tall as it has been in years past.
I haven’t been out to where the beans and sunflowers are in rotation this year. I simply must carve out time to take a road trip down the dusty, dirt arteries that criss-cross this area in blocks – with a curve or jaunt here and there for boundary lines, or to avoid a low spot that used to be a flash flood area.
The ranchers are hoping their fields get some rain – that they’ve rotated their pastures well enough in the past, to keep their stock fed this summer of less quick growing grass.
Hay will most likely be at a premium this coming winter. The disruptions to the centralized meat packing plant industry AND it’s whole distribution chain means high prices for consumers, low/no prices for the ranchers and everyone is praying they don’t have to destroy any of their herd in waste or watch them starve to death.
Small local businesses are running ragged trying to keep up with local needs OR are hoping they can survive the forced closures they endured for COVID.
If you want to work out here, there is no shortage of work to be done.
There have been many times, during my years on this planet and in this space on the planet, I’ve watched the forces of nature & events swirl around me and mine in one fashion or another.
I’ve watched for a long, long time as the national conversations and centralized systems business model do their concentrated best to break the spirit of many around me.
In lean years, hot years, dry years, everything here hunkers close to the ground – to conserve moisture, avoid the winds and keep their nose to ground and push on one more step in front of them on what needs be done.
In the abundant years? They stand taller, more upright, but woe to those who get a big head on spindly stalk, for it’s harder to get back up after the wind has blown you down, if your head is big and out here, if you can’t sway with the storms, you will break.
Despite the storms, the whiteouts, the tornados, the cold, the heat, the hardships, etc., I stand in awe of this land and all who inhabit it.
Over and over again, in this space where time flies by and yet, stands still when need be.
I’m sure you have your Two Miles too
Those places that transcend current events, current woes, challenges or even have a hand in delivering the challenges to you, but where you also, at times, stand in quiet awe of the very temerity of those things that insist they belong, and continue to survive and stand strong, no matter what Mother Nature or man’s inhumanity to man chooses to mete out.
And, for all those who are staying close to the ground to dare to survive while the winds of fortune whirl around them; while they balance as best they can on the sharp, hot, shifting rocks full of spines, stickers and flaked edges that slice the feet and the heart –
Well, I have my two miles, you have yours.
But, I stand beside you in spirit and if I had a tail, I’d do my best to swish the pests from your eyes and face.